Roxi D’Lite, Reigning Queen of Burlesque Miss Exotic World 2010, known as the “Drinkin’, Smokin’, Strippin’ Machine” talks Australia, illegal masquerades, Cyr Wheels, self-reflection, assassins and showgirls.
Interview: Divertida Devotchka
Q: This month you’re embarking on the Australian Burlesque Festival National Tour. What are you most excited about regarding your trip? Is there anything that you’re nervous about?
A: The Australian Burlesque Festival is going to be amazing. The ABF team has been working hard on this tour for nearly a year and it’s a huge event. It’s going to be an intensive few weeks and very rock and roll. I’ll be touring along with some of the top performers in the world and hitting eight cities. I’ll then be popping over to New Zealand for a few Burlesque Assassins premieres. Australia has long been one of my favorite places in the world and I’m excited to return. I will be bringing two of my biggest acts including my newest act called Moonlight Cyrenade. This act has been my biggest challenge to date and it’s exciting to be able to share it with the world. I wanted to create something unique and inventive and I think I’ve accomplished that. In the past I’ve tried to incorporate non-traditional elements into my routines like the lyra (or aerial hoop). But as the lyra became more commonplace I looked for something else to set myself apart. For the past year I have been training on the Cyr Wheel and, to the best of my knowledge, I am the only stripper in the world using it. The Cyr Wheel is a relatively new contraption created just a few years ago in Montreal. Montreal is the home of Cirque du Soleil and home to many talented circus performers. I traveled to Montreal and spent some time there training with different performers to improve my skill while I was working on the costume, music and overall concept. Moonlight Cyrenade is a mix of Art Deco glamour, modern stripping and circus. I feel it’s a good representation of who I am as a performer and consistent with the style of act I like to create. I hope everybody enjoys it as much as I have creating it.
Q: You’re the producer of the Dirty Devil’s Peepshow at Theater Bizarre. Would you please tell our readers more about the event?
A: Theatre Bizarre is an annual event held in Detroit but to the people involved and those who attend it is so much more. Think of it as the Greatest Masquerade on Earth within an immersive art installation. It is the vision of award-winning Detroit artist John Dunivant and brought to life by the efforts of hundreds of volunteers. Theatre Bizarre began more than 10 years ago when John wanted to incorporate his work into a Halloween party. He and a group of crazy friends took over an abandoned neighborhood in a decrepit part of Detroit and transformed the land into a horror-themed amusement park. A former crack house was converted into a haunted house; they built a roller coaster with flame throwers and even installed a Ferris Wheel. There is a full backstory and complete cast of characters. There were many performance stages spread out over two acres with names like the Scaredy Cat Club and Frontier Land. Everything within Theatre Bizarre was inspired by John’s childhood love of roadside attractions, carnivals and sideshows.
Theatre Bizarre was never advertised yet it was attended by thousands of people in the most elaborate costumes you can imagine. It was also completely illegal. For years the City of Detroit and its officials (police included) were aware of Theatre Bizarre and often attended despite the disregard of regulations. After all, it is Detroit and they had other things to worry about. As years went on and administrations changed more rules were enforced. In 2010, the day before the party, city officials shut everything down and we were forced to relocate. Detroit and its dwellers are very proud and resilient and Theatre Bizarre, much like the city, was forced to evolve in order to survive. The event is now held in Detroit’s Masonic Temple and it is the world’s largest of its kind. The party is now twice as large and draws nearly 5,000 people spread throughout seven floors.
One of the many stages is called the Dirty Devil’s Peepshow, which I produce. The Peepshow features burlesque performances and good old-fashioned bump and grinds from some of the top performers in the world. Dancers enter through the mouth of a giant devil and dance on the runway-like stage shaped like a serpent’s tongue. In the past we have featured headliners like Julie Atlas Muz, Tigger!, Trixie and Monkey and this year we are excited to feature Michelle L’amour, Kalani Kokonuts and Russell Bruner. Due to its popularity we had to open up the performing process to applicants similar to how many burlesque festivals operate. Performers audition online through the Theatre Bizarre website with examples of their best work. The auditions are now open and the deadline is July 15. We select just 15 performers and create six different shows throughout the night beginning at the top of every hour. The energy in the room is unlike anything I have ever experienced. The crowd and energy is off the charts crazy just like Theatre Bizarre and Detroit. Words really don’t do the experience justice so I encourage everyone to visit theatrebizarre.com and learn how to get involved.
Q: You’re a photographer, and you do the styling, hair, makeup and retouching yourself, is that right? How long have you been shooting and how did you get started? Who or what have been some of your favorite subjects to shoot and why?
A: I first started stripping while I was in college. I was taking graphic design and it was a very expensive program. I needed great photos for publicity and worked with various talented photographers in the area. When I graduated I found I was making more money (and having more fun) on stage than I ever would behind a computer. I just decided one day to give it a shot by myself. I always had an eye for the camera I could use my graphic design experience to edit photos. I bought all the equipment I needed and taught myself along the way. I was then able to create everything with what I envisioned. I could style, shoot and edit my own photos and, most importantly, own the images. Since then I have run a pinup and boudoir photography studio where I help women realize their inner vixen. I pamper them and do their hair, make-up and help them be a pinup for a day. I think everybody wants to have pretty pictures of themselves and I am happy to help them. I most enjoy shooting other burlesque performers. They all have such interesting personalities and I try to bring that out with my photos. I have been fortunate enough to meet many talented performers and I am even more fortunate to have photographed them. What began as an interesting side project of photographing my friends has suddenly turned into a collection of burlesque’s top stars. I have loved shooting people like Dirty Martini, Julie Atlas Muz and Tigger! I have also captured great images of Michelle L’amour, Indigo Blue, Jo Weldon, The Stage Door Johnnies and many more. I even started adding some of my favorite burlesque legends to the collection. I have worked with April March, Judith Stein and Satan’s Angel. It’s just a fun way to spend time with friends. I don’t usually seek out and arrange photo shoots but if I know I’m going to see them I’ll bring my camera along. I am still learning as I go and much like the photo collection it’s a work in progress.
Q: In March you shared the following on Facebook, and I was struck by it: “I just received a very uneducated attack in the form of hate mail in my inbox today. The letter was from a woman who clearly has major lack of self love and respect for her fellow females. As females we should motivate and inspire each other, not bring each other down. This woman wrote: “because of women like you men treat other women as objects…” (there is more that I choose not to share). Honey, you’re clearly hanging out with the wrong men. You attract what you put out in the universe, perhaps some self reflection and love is the remedy here? Sending hate mail to strangers is not going to fix your inner pain. Also, I am intelligent, brains and beauty right here and I am very fortunate to be doing what I love, and what I choose to do. No one was forcing me to do anything. May love light your way.” And again in early May, you received a message (from a presumably different user) essentially assuming that you’re a porn star, telling you to “repent from fornication and immoralities” and so on. Is hate mail a regular occurrence for you? You handle it with dignity and grace, but when did you first begin receiving it? Do you have advice for other performers and models who deal with this type of thing regularly?
A: I don’t often get hate mail but I can’t say it never happens. I do get a lot of weird fan mail and I love it. By weird I mean there are proposals with penis measurements and other sexual abilities. I don’t respond but I take screenshots and save it in a folder so I can sometime in the future read it for a laugh. Every so often I will receive some hate mail and I feel the need to respond. One thing that’s consistent with all the weird messages is that they are all written in terrible English. Make of that what you will. Sometimes it’s just silly and other times it’s a little concerning.
Recently a man sent me a religious diatribe about how I should repent from fornication and how fornicators will burn in a lake of fire and brimstone. This is clearly laughable but it is nice to know fornicators get their own lake of fire. I took a screenshot and shared it on Facebook and Twitter and received a ton of positive feedback and shared many laughs with people. Later on I took a photo from one of my darker performances with a baphomet and pentagrams and I was topless. It was the perfect trifecta for this guy to flip his lid. I photoshopped the word “REPENT!” across my nipples and posted it for him. I feel that’s the best way to deal with absurdity–expose it to the world and mock it for what it really is. On another occasion a woman once told me “it’s because of women like you men treat other women as objects.” I didn’t find this absurd at all. In fact, I took this as more like a cry for help from this woman. What I do is actually the complete opposite. I did not want to attack this woman because I feel she gets attacked often and that’s why she feels that way. When a person attacks someone else they are usually attacking the part of themselves they hate. I try to empower women by being an individual and making my own choices and I wanted to show her that perhaps some self reflection is in order. More love and less hate will make the world a better place.
Q: You starred in the Canadian film “Burlesque Assassins” which released last year and is currently screening all over the world. Your character, “Bourbon Sue” is very obviously based on you – the drinkin’, smokin’, strippin’ machine. I’d love to hear about the filming process. What was the most memorable part for you? What were the biggest challenges? Is there any word on the DVD release?
A: I first met the director Jon Joffe years ago in Toronto. He had conceived this idea of a film with actual burlesque performers and was researching the world of burlesque by attending some festivals. We hit it off and he created the character of Bourbon Sue for me. She’s a hard drinking, hard smoking, rockabilly delinquent which I know is a stretch but I did my best to get into character. Some time went by before we even began shooting but Jon stayed in touch. Eventually, I flew to Calgary for a month of shooting and loved all of it. I received some fight training and learned I deliver a pretty mean roundhouse. All of the performers shared a house for the duration of shooting and we nicknamed it the safe house. I learned that shooting a movie is not as easy as you might think. The days are very long and there’s often a lot of waiting between shots. Scenes are shot out of order and they can be difficult to grasp without the context.
Jon has been working very hard to get the movie screened and have it shown to as many people as possible. He is also working on a distribution deal for on demand services and the iTunes store. He also plans to release the film on DVD and Blu-Ray in the near future. We just finished recording audio commentary and I think he has many other goodies in store for the DVD.
It was an honor to be a part of the film and it’s amazing to see it screened around the world and even reviewed by actual industry professionals. The feedback has been great and I would love to have the chance to do it again. Speaking of, the film has done well enough that there are rumours circulating about a sequel. No official comment from me though because Assassins are sworn to secrecy.
Q: What’s next for Roxi D’Lite?
A: I am currently working towards featuring in more strip clubs. I started my career in strip clubs long before burlesque stages and prior to winning Miss Exotic World my goal was to bring burlesque back to the strip clubs. Clubs used to feature great shows with talented showgirls and any of the Burlesque Hall of Fame Legends will confirm that. In recent years, the feature showgirl has disappeared in favour of adult film stars and boring stage shows. Any time I have performed in a club the audience loves seeing a show–the bigger the better. I think people are bored of the norm and want something different. Even though my style is similar to our burlesque legends I am considered a novelty act. When I talk to club strippers many of them don’t even know there is a history to burlesque or even a museum dedicated to this art form. I hope I can educate them about our history and maybe inspire them to be showgirls as well. I hope to bring back the showgirl and do what I can to change the industry for the better.
Q: Anything you’d like to add?
A: Drink! Smoke! Strip!
Oakland, California-based bump n’ grind band Los Shimmy Shakers (Courtney on drums, Larry on guitar, Steve on bass and Tony on sax) talk Tease-O-Rama, Las Vegas Grind, performing with live burlesque and Tiki Oasis.
Interview: Divertida Devotchka
Q: You’ve been a burlesque fan for a long time, and the fact that most shows used canned jazz and big band music is what led you to start your band, right? After seeing Tease-O-Rama a few years ago performed with canned music, you were inspired and you talked about it for years, but you formed the band in 2010, played the first show in 2011, and since then Los Shimmy Shakers have played live Bump n’ Grind for Hubba Hubba Revue, Tease-O-Rama 2012, Viva Las Vegas 2012 and Ink-N-Iron 2012, just to name a few. That’s quite a start; you must be so excited! Can you tell us more about the development of the band and how things have evolved into what they are today?
Court: Yes, I’ve been a burlesque fan for years and always loved the Las Vegas Grind Compilations that came out in the early-mid 90′s. I went to Tease-O-Rama in 2007 and thought it was great but spent the entire show wishing a band was playing. I had been thinking of doing a band and after seeing that show was really inspired to finally put a bump n grind band together. I talked about it for a couple more years and then was feeling like a loser for talking about it and not actually doing it so in 2010 I began to form the band. I started talking with friends and finally hooked up with a buddy of mine Rudy (used to play in The Skegs, a surf band) who plays bass and began playing together in early 2010. We spent about 6 months writing songs together and imagining where the guitar and sax parts would be. Then a friend of mine Bret from a Garage band called the Flakes stepped in on guitar and helped write more songs and fill out the songs Rudy and I had been working on. He was a good fit for the band and certainly understood the style but for personal reasons just did not have time to dedicate to the band so left and was replaced by Pete (used to play in Mountain Pig, El Pollo Elastico, The Nads) played with us for a short time and helped us get Randy on sax in the band. Randy (played in Fromagique) stepped in on sax around Fall of 2010 and the band really started to take shape. Pete as well could not spare the time, so he was replaced by the perfect fit for the band on guitar, Larry (formerly of the Skegs.) Larry really understood exactly what I was going for and really helped make the band what it is. Larry had also been in a surf band with Rudy so they already had a rapport and worked well together which made writing songs together that much faster. After Randy and Larry had joined we wrote a lot of songs and had a very productive period of song writing much of which thanks to Larry. So by December we were in the studio laying down tracks for our 1st record “Shake ‘Em If Ya Got ‘Em.” We played our 1st show in January of 2011 for a Hubba Hubba Revue show which was great, and people seemed to really dig it. We spent most of 2011 playing shows, getting the word out and writing more songs. By December of 2011 we were heading back in the studio for record number two and by 2012 we had two records and were heading to Viva Las Vegas, followed by Tease-O-Rama and Ink-N-Iron. After Viva Las Vegas Rudy left the band to move to Las Vegas, which was a drag because he was such a major part of the band and had been there from the get go. He was replaced by Vance (Indigo Swing) who stayed for the rest of 2012 then we found Steve (used to be the Monarchs) on bass. Early this year Randy left and was replaced by Tony. This line up now is really solid and I’m excited to begin writing more music again and believe this line up will last. It has been a great start although it has recently been a bit of a challenge with members leaving and new guys coming on board. 2013 has had a slow start but looking like a strong finish as we have Tiki Oasis lined up for August.
Q: You’ve released two albums of all original Bump n’ Grind, Shake ‘Em If Ya Got ‘Em and Stiletto Nocturne, and I hear you might be working with Dionysus Records to release a vinyl LP of select tracks from those albums. Rumor has it you could even be recording a third? Tell us all about that, please!
Court: So we didn’t wanna wait for a label to put something out for us when we started so we did the first two CDs DIY. We have recently been talking with Dionysus Records about putting out a vinyl LP of a combination of select songs from the first two albums. We might release an LP with them at some point but not sure when. We are currently trying to get back to writing songs again but it has been slow going with all the member changes.
Q: For those of our readers that are more musically inclined than burlesque-oriented, can you please explain your musical style and influences? How does one describe the sound of Bump n’ Grind without the visual?
Larry: There was a period in the early 60′s when the rock world started to influence the pit band in Vegas. Til then the bands were more jazz or accompaniment for crooners. Younger patrons wanted newer music. So surf and rock music had a love child with the Vegas jazz and the kind of grind music that we are influenced by was born. It combines the rhythm and intensity of rock with the jazzier harmonies and instrumentation and came up with a gritty, grindy, kinda nasty sound.
Court: I think it is also important to point out the change in public consciousness and view towards Burlesque/Stripping. This music was born out of necessity. Burlesque had been becoming more and more popular and grew quite a bit from the 1920-1950s, by the mid to late 50s with lots of clubs putting on strip shows throughout the country and as we headed into the 60s the sexual revolution was beginning and the stigma and stereotype was being challenged. This combined with the popularity of rock and the advent of a new genre (surf) led to a natural combination of what had previously been used to accompany the dancers, blues, jazz and big band. This new type of music was a combination of jazz, blues, rock and surf. The late 50′s and early 60s were the real heyday of this genre and proved quite prolific as it is well documented in the Las Vegas Grind Compilations. I think they put out 6 of them.
Q: You recently announced that you will be performing at Tiki Oasis this August in San Diego. Care to share what you’ve got up your sleeves for the event? What are you looking forward to most?
Court: Yes we are doing Tiki Oasis 13 and very excited about it. Always fun to be in So Cal. We can’t tell you what we have in store; that’s top secret but it should be a lot of fun. Girls and guys from around the world will be performing so it should be a really exciting show. We play on Saturday night at midnight. We may also be playing a room party with Thee Swank Bastards and some other bands. We’re looking forward to working with some new performers. We’re also looking forward to some beach time and possibly some scuba diving after the festival.
Q: What are your favorite things about playing live music for burlesque performances? What challenges are presented that you don’t find at non-burlesque gigs, if any?
Court: It’s much more fun to put on a real show, not just a band playing the music. We are an instrumental band so the girls performing with us are like the lead singers, although not singing they are what people focus on, which is good because we are bunch of old guys, haha, not much to look at. What has been challenging as an up and coming band, is getting paid enough to really put on the kind of show we wanna do which is, girls performing to every song. We pay all the girls who perform with us, if we are getting paid that is, and so that is a tall order to get enough to pay all the girls and something for the band. I think this will shift as we get more traction and become more known with a better following. A lot of promoters only look at how many people you’re gonna bring in, not the show you’re gonna put on. So we are beginning to start to produce our own shows so we can all the shots and do the kind of show we want to produce.
Q: What’s next for Los Shimmy Shakers?
Court: Well we are working on writing some new songs, possibly record #3, as well as some bigger and better shows. If all goes well we will be performing in Napa California this September with the Reverend Horton Heat which will be a lot of fun. We’re also starting work on an entirely new show with our good friend Molotov, a sword swallowing side show performer. He has performed with us 2 or 3 times and is a blast to work with. He does an amazing knife throwing act, where he puts a cute girl on the “wheel” and catches his knives on fire then throws them, hopefully narrowly missing the girl. We are really excited to work with him more closely to make a really killer show. He may be performing with us at Tiki Oasis this year.
Anything you’d like to add?
Court: It’s super exciting to see the vision of this band finally come to fruition and be part of a great creative group of guys. Really looking forward to the future with this group. Also thank you so much for talking with us.
By: Dapper John
The past few years have seen an explosion of new talent, with performers, producers, and choreographers popping up everywhere and putting on creative and interesting shows. Many participants in this burgeoning burlesque scene, however, are worried about how to protect their ideas from unauthorized borrowing. Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but it is not flattering to spend months perfecting an original routine, only to see it performed by someone else a few weeks later. In this article I hope to clear up some of the confusion over copyrights and trademarks, and describe, in general terms, how each may be used to protect original ideas.
Please note, this article is a brief overview and only scratches the surface of a very complex area of the law. It is intended to provide general guidance only and should not be viewed or utilized as legal advice to be applied to fact-specific situations. Contact an attorney for any specific questions or for advice regarding a specific situation.
What is the difference between a copyright and a trademark?
Copyrights and trademarks share many similarities. Both are registered with an agency of the federal government. Each one gives the owner exclusive rights to the work, meaning the owner has the right to prevent anyone else from using their work. What exactly is the difference between these two forms of intellectual property protection?
A copyright protects the expression of a person’s ideas, and is focused on the originality of the piece. Copyright protection is given to creative works like writing, computer programs, music, choreography, lyrics, graphic designs, sculpture, photographs, movies, and sound recordings. The expression must be “original,” which, in this context, means a work that is not an exact copy of another work. Copyrights are also self-executing, meaning that an author is automatically protected by federal copyright. Nonetheless, copyrights can be registered with the Library of Congress, and certain remedies for infringement require registration.
A trademark, on the other hand, protects something that is used to identify where a product or a service comes from, and is focused on distinctiveness. An example of a trademark would be a distinctive logo, like the Pin Curl logo on the cover of this magazine, which is placed on products to inform consumers that the product came from that particular company. The logo itself is not trademarked, but its use in connection with a particular product or service is protected. Just like a copyright, a trademark can be established without formal registration, although, as explained below, the protection will be limited in scope. Trademarks are registered with the United States Patent and Trademark Office.
There can be some overlap between the copyright and trademark. If you paint an original picture, that picture is protected by copyright. If you use that picture as a distinctive logo to advertise your business, it can be registered as a trademark. Both protections will be there, and it is only a question of which protection you use to enforce your rights in the work. That, in turn, depends on how those rights are violated. If your picture is just copied, it’s a copyright infringement. If it’s used to sell a different product, it’s probably a trademark infringement as well. In the context of burlesque, copyright can be used to protect original performances and choreography, while trademark protects stage names and logos.
What is the time and geographic scope of a copyright and trademark?
One of the most important differences between trademarks and copyrights is that copyrights will expire. As a general rule, copyrights for your new work will last for your lifetime, plus an additional seventy years. Trademarks are issued for a finite period of time, but they can be renewed and, as a result, could last forever.
The Copyright Act provides nationwide protection of a copyrighted work. There are separate national copyright laws in each country, although international treaties—specifically the Berne Convention—facilitate protection of copyrights worldwide. Protection in one Berne country will be extended to other Berne countries. A list of countries who are signatories to the Berne Convention can be found here.
The geographic reach of a trademark depends on whether or not it has been registered. Trademark rights in the United States can be established through mere use of the mark in connection with the associated goods or services. Without federal registration, however, the rights established by use of the mark will be limited to the geographic area where the mark is actually used. Thus, later users who adopts the same or a similar mark without knowledge of the prior user may develop their own trademark rights to a different geographic region. For example, if you use a logo to advertise your performances in Texas, you will have trademark rights as to that logo in Texas. If another performer unknowingly starts using the same logo in New York, then that performer will have his or her own trademark rights in New York. Accordingly, a mark owner who relies only upon common law trademark rights may encounter obstacles to his or her ability to use the mark (and to exclude others from using its mark) as the owner starts performing in other places.
Luckily, a U.S. federal registration on the Principal Register confers nationwide “constructive notice” of the registrant’s ownership and rights in the mark, preventing a later user from claiming lack of knowledge of the original mark. A federal registration provides a nationwide scope of protection over later users of the same or similar marks in connection with the same or similar goods or services.
In certain foreign countries, federal registration within that country’s registration system is the only way to secure trademark rights, and the first to file an application for registration has priority over later registrants, regardless of who actually began using the mark first in that country or elsewhere.
Can you copyright the name of your troupe, your performance name, or the name of a specific show?
Titles, names, short phrases, and slogans are not protected by copyright law. Similarly, copyright law does not apply to aesthetic elements such as simple product lettering or coloring. To be protected by copyright, a work must contain at least a minimum amount of authorship in the form of original expression. Names, titles, and other short phrases are simply too minimal to meet these requirements. This is why you will often see books and movies sharing the same title.
Names, slogans and phrases which are used in connection with a product or service should be protected by registering a trademark, so long as they otherwise meet the distinctiveness requirement.
Can you copyright a burlesque show itself?
Ideas, procedures, principles, discoveries, and devices are all specifically excluded from copyright protection. As a result, a burlesque show itself, as an idea or concept, cannot be protected by copyright. Specific aspects of the show, however, such as original choreography or music, can be copyrighted. A distinctive name or logo for a show can also be trademarked.
Can you copyright choreography?
Yes, if it is original and fixed. Choreography is the composition and arrangement of dance movements and patterns usually intended to be accompanied by music. To be protected by copyright, choreography does not need to tell a story or be presented before an audience. Each work, however, must be fixed in a tangible medium of expression from which the work can be performed. Common methods for “fixing” choreography are a video of a performance or written choreographic notes. Keep in mind, though, that choreography that is only performed in front of an audience, without video or notation, cannot be protected. Choreographic works that have not been notated or recorded are unfixed and cannot receive copyright protection.
What is the scope of such copyright (eight count, one move, ect.)?
There is no clear standard on how many steps or other movements are required to create a copyrightable work. The Copyright Act itself does not define choreography. In one of the only cases to address the topic, the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit held that “social dance steps and simple routines” cannot be copyrighted (so the two-step or a simple grapevine cannot be copyrighted), and went on to define choreography as “the composition and arrangement of dance movements and patterns, [which] is usually intended to be accompanied by music.” Yeah, not so helpful. Something tells me judges are not big dancers.
But what “series of moves” is original enough to be copyrightable? Newly-created steps, in isolation from any particular sequence, might be “original,” but are probably ineligible for protection, as they constitute “ideas,” “systems,” or “methods of operations” excluded from protection. Combinations of steps, however, could be original and copyrightable. Group of dancers performing steps in unison are also likely to increase the originality, and, therefore, the copyrightability (I’m a lawyer, I can make up words) of a work. Unfortunately, no court has provided guidance on this issue, so the lines remain fuzzy.
One interesting aspect of copyrighting choreography is that copyright in choreography is not tied to a specific piece of music. A dancer could, theoretically, infringe on another’s choreography by performing an infringing dance to an entirely different piece of music.
It is similarly unclear when a dance infringes on a protected piece of choreography. The general test for copyright infringement is whether the infringing work is “substantially similar” to the copyrighted work. Again, there is little helpful case law in this area, leaving choreographers in the dark as to when imitation changes from flattery to infringement.
Can you copyright or trademark a prop or gimmick?
Not really. Remember that a copyright protects the expression of a person’s ideas. A prop by itself is a device, and, therefore, is not likely to be considered an expression worthy of protection. A description of a prop could be copyrighted, but this would only prevent others from copying the description; it would not prevent others from writing a description of their own or from making and using the prop. An exception may exist for props that are themselves original works of art similar to a painting or sculpture, whose copyright protection would exist independently from their use in a performance. Additionally, a copyright of a performance may prevent another performer from using a substantially similar prop in the same way, because doing so would infringe on the copyright of the performance. This would not prevent a performer from using the prop in a different performance, however. Finally, a prop that is sufficiently unique may be patented, but patent protection is well beyond the scope of this article.
Let’s look at an example that ties all these concepts together. A performer performs under the name “The Doughty Brunette” and uses a distinctive banana logo in all her advertisements, business cards, and promotions. She also has a giant banana prop that she rides in an “original” way in her signature routine. For the past three years, TDB has performed this routine in an annual Banana Festival show that she also produces, called “The Phallic Fruit Extravaganza.” This show has been videoed a few times and is available on Youtube. What can be copyrighted, and what can be trademarked?
The names, “The Doughty Brunette” and “The Phallic Fruit Extravaganza” can likely be trademarked, as can the banana logo, so long as they are all distinctive. This protection will only cover the areas where she performs, unless she registers the trademarks. The specific, original motions or choreography she uses to ride the banana can probably be copyrighted, as least as they appear in the video. She should put a short “copyright: [name]” notice on the video, just in case (she can use that fun symbol: ©). Registering with the Library of Congress would ensure that she is protected. This copyright would prevent someone from riding a substantially similar banana in a substantially similar way. If the banana is unique is some way, like if it jiggles or turns into a chili pepper mid-act, she may consider patenting it. A copyright or trademark will not prevent someone from putting on their own phallic-fruit themed show during the Banana Festival, so long as it does not use the same (or a substantially similar) name or logo. Another performer may also create a similar banana prop, so long as she does not copy the same movements used by the copyright holder, or infringe on any patent. In all cases, the performer should consult her local friendly intellectual property lawyer.
New York’s Italian Stallionette Angie Pontani, Queen of Burlesque Miss Exotic World 2008, talks wedding planning like a boss, Coney Island, droids, Burlesque-A-Pades, beach parties, Go-Go-Robics, sequin cowgirl costumes and memory lane.
For the complete interview and more beautiful exclusive images of Angie, pick up your Spring 2013 Best of Pin Curl print edition, available mid-May here!
Interview: Divertida Devotchka
Q: Our last interview together was in June 2011 and my, so much has happened for you since then! Perhaps most notable is your marriage in February to jazz musician Brian Newman! Congratulations! The wedding images we’ve seen are breathtaking, but we’d love to hear all about your big day! I’ve read that since you’re both in show biz, you approached wedding planning much like planning a show. Did you find it difficult to stay on top of everything in addition to your careers or was the process second nature to you due to your experience as a producer? Were there frustrating moments along the way and if so how did the two of you handle them? Is there anything you would have done differently if you could do it over? What was your favorite part? (Or parts?)
A: The wedding was fabulous and planning it was just as fun. I think coming from my production background, it was inevitable that I approached the wedding with the production/showbiz side of my brain. The only difference with this was that I didn’t have to worry about press and promotion and that I was co-producing with my mom! That had its challenging moments, like when I banned flower centerpieces and she sneakily called the florist and ordered them. I come from a big Italian-American family and there is this kind of standard that our weddings are held to – you need a church, a big wedding hall, Italian Wedding Soup, tons of wine, a good DJ and a nice bursa to walk around and collect envelopes in. Brian and I love a lot of these elements, but we also really wanted to make the wedding our own, something that our families would love but that represented us too. Our location was amazing – The Grand Prospect Hall. It’s a historic hall in our neighborhood that was built in late 1892 as a “temple of music and amusement” by John Kolle, over the years it’s been an opera house, a theater, a Masonic lounge, a speakeasy, a film set (Cotton Club), and so much more! It is gorgeous and unique, exactly what we wanted, less than ten blocks from our house. Since the hall was so huge, we were able to incorporate everything we wanted, we had an on-site ceremony officiated by Pastor Paul Milholland of Trinity Lutheran Church. The amazing Steven Hammel was our artistic designer and basically turned the ceremony room into a stage/church. We had a 16 piece big band made up of a lot of Brian’s musician pals, and then segued into my cousin Bruce Mancia DJ’ing. It was a fantastic colorful crowd of family, friends and colleagues. I think my favorite moments aside from saying “I do” were just being on the dance floor and looking around, watching my crazy cousin Larry dancing with all my friends and seeing our parents having so much fun. There was so much love in the air and on the dance floor, it was magical. I keep going back and looking at the pictures and pinching myself for being so lucky to have so many amazing diverse people in my life, family and world. Balancing the wedding and normal work was a challenge; I had my costume designer Garo Sparo working on my gown and a new costume in tandem! My printer was printing invites and show posters, and Brian and I were practicing our first dance and some new acts. It was a real multi-tasking few months. We even had a show the night before our wedding in Virginia; that was a little crazy, but honestly, I really wouldn’t do anything differently, except I would have eaten more night of. We had a 2-foot cannoli in the dessert room and I didn’t even get to see it!
Enjoy Angie’s wedding photo gallery below! (Click images to enlarge.)
Seattle’s Golden Glamazon Sydni Deveraux talks creating a legacy, production advice, staying fit, veggie powered strippers, mentors and the importance of not being an asshole.
Interview: Divertida Devotchka
Q: You’re a trained jazz singer, and you discovered burlesque while studying literature in college in 2005. After attending your first show you were hooked and asked to stage kitten, which you started doing almost immediately. From there you became a stage manager and eventually were asked to create your own act and perform, which eventually gave way to the Sydni we know today. In addition to singing and performing, your repertoire also includes hosting, instructing, writing, producing and much more. In just 7 short years you made your way to being included in 21st Century Burlesque’s Top 50 performers worldwide (2012). To what do you attribute your rapid success in the industry? If you could go back to the beginning of Sydni’s burlesque career, would you make any changes?
A: Hmmm…..it’s funny you should say “rapid success” because it’s been a road that seems long, windy and sometimes stuck at a dead end! I would say my “success” as you would call it would have to be attributed to the prodding of my mom to really put in the work and see where I could take myself (thanks mom), and to Catherine D’Lish, who mentored me in so many wonderful ways I can’t even begin to express my gratitude. Both of these women encouraged me to see my cultivation through, and I’m in no way done with my progress! I suppose in addition to that, I would have to say that the performers that I’ve had the honor of “coming up” with have constantly inspired me to be better every performance and also that I’m very stubborn and determined to be the absolute best I can be. In the grander scheme (beyond my personal development) I started to ask myself what I wanted my legacy to be and how I could add to burlesque’s present and future. My performances only take me to a few places around the globe a year, but my writing can go everywhere. I figured I should use my assets- my writing and wit- to lend a helping hand and hope that it might help someone else out. My only regret is that I didn’t start sooner, and that in a few situations in my baby-burlesquer years (I’m a teenager now, maybe) I didn’t speak up more for myself or the women around me.
Q: You’re the producer of Seattle’s weekly review “Burlesque Behind the Pink Door” and you’ve written extensively as well as instructed on production topics. Are there any production obstacles that you commonly encounter? What challenges are presented by producing a weekly show? What basic suggestions can you offer to fledgling producers that are struggling to keep up?
A: Producing a weekly is actually pretty easy at this point- the show that I have now was once in the legendary hands of Paula the Swedish Housewife and Tamara the Trapeze Lady, and then in my back-in-the-day co-producer Hottie McNaughty’s. I’ve done so many shows with them and had so many conversations, that you really do learn, and I very much learned from the best. My show is a challenge sometimes only because I don’t always have complete control as I don’t own the venue or manage the restaurant. It’s been a learning process (and I’m thankful for it!) to have to communicate with those not completely adapted to our burlesque world how I feel about the production and where I want to see it go. Like many small productions (the restaurant only seats about a hundred) there are challenges but all I can do is try and be as transparent as I can be about how it’s run and what I can do. Making sure that all of the releases go out whilst traveling can be a bit of a pain sometimes depending on access, but really, it’s not difficult. I have a set protocol now for my weekly production, and a really great group of stage managers. Also I have a ridiculously hot and talented roster of about 50 performers that I rotate through creating a different, fun show every week- so it makes it easy to cast something groovy. Another blessing is all of the wonderful talent that makes sure to contact me when they’re headed to Seattle to see if they can steal a slot in the show! I can’t always accommodate, since I have to book out in advance to make sure it runs smooth, but it’s so fun when it does work out.
I guess my basic advice for fledgling producers is:
a) to really make sure that their production lifts the face of burlesque in their town
b) be as transparent as you can
c) pay as fair as you can- don’t go below the base pay in your city- do your research
d) expect professionalism from your cast, since they will hopefully be expecting it from you too
e) go to a lot of other shows of all kinds to study (and be entertained!)
f) don’t book your friends unless they’re talented. Please.
g) get amazing stage managers
h) don’t be an asshole- if you have to turn someone down, or issue a reprimand, be nice. (I should mention that “don’t be an asshole” is one of the finest pieces of advice issued by the amazing Catherine D’Lish- and I heed it every day.)
Q: You’re also known for maintaining a healthy lifestyle and you keep yourself and countless others motivated by posting your “BQfitTips” on Twitter and Facebook. Have you been surprised by how many people are inspired by your posts, suggestions and advice? Was it your original intention to encourage others or was it more to help yourself stay motivated? Perhaps a little of both?
A: It was a huge surprise to see how many dig it- I just figured I’d try to put more good/informative stuff on the internet instead of complaining or the “me me me I’m awesome” stuffs. So much of what we all talk about online has to do with burlesque, but our burlesque has so much to do with our bodies and health that I couldn’t resist tackling it from the back end. I know it’s important to advertise ourselves, and I still do post “me” stuffs sometimes, but after all of the research I’ve done about health (mind and body) and fitness it just seemed natural to share what inspires me and what calls me to be shared. It’s a huge passion of mine (now) to try to cultivate the healthiest and most peaceful life that I possibly can- and knowing that I might even inspire one person to try something new in their day inspires me to keep doing it.
Q: Speaking of fitness and health, I was really struck by your reading your Tumblr and learned that you and your husband dramatically changed your diets and workouts and cumulatively have lost more than 90 pounds in the last two years! You transitioned to veganism in late 2012 (more on that later) and you’ve stated that that life change, along with a few other modifications, has helped you “feel incredible” and that you’re “experiencing the best health of [your] life.” What was the deciding factor in making that change? What advice do you have for those considering adopting a vegan lifestyle?
A: Heavy questions! You’ve really done your homework! Yeah- my Veggie Powered Stripper Tumblr is where I get healthy, political, esoteric and really into what I’m interested in besides burlesque. I needed a place to vent and be weird, since I don’t think my Facebook profile or performer Twitter was appropriate.
As to the deciding factors- I was miserable, body, mind and spirit. I suppose my soul ached for a change. I started on the surface, which if I knew then what I know now- I’d do the opposite, start from within. I consulted with nutritionists, trying to get to the bottom of my body woes which ran the gamut from tired, achy, bloated, carrying fat that I didn’t desire, etc. I incrementally made changes to my diet to get where I am now. First I tackled just eating regularly, you know? Spasmodic eating certainly doesn’t make your body trust that it has what it needs to function properly. Then I tackled portion sizes- I was eating too much of some things and not enough of others. I moved on to organic. I started to eat less meat in general and then decided to give giving it up a try for a bit and I felt even better (as to why- I suggest watching Forks Over Knives). As for working out, I started with cardio and then moved into hot yoga and weight training. I don’t lift much anymore as I hold a lot of muscle naturally on my body- but lifting was the thing that absolutely transformed my body. Yoga keeps me in flow and centered.
My advice to those considering a vegan lifestyle would be to do your research. I’m certain that if I wasn’t already eating enough prior to taking it on, I would have failed. Learn to cook if you don’t already know- knowing exactly what’s on your plate feels empowering. Avoid packaged stuff for the most part- it’s mostly junk. Don’t be fooled thinking that you can’t “get enough protein”- it’s absolutely a fallacy. You will have to take B-12 since it’s been depleted out of our soil over time. Make small incremental changes to start- make Monday meatless for a month. Then up it to another day or 3…..only eat organic meat (really- with what they inject into animals these days, please do yourself a favor and only eat organic if you are a meat eater) as well as dairy and cheese. Do what you can. I’ll admit, sushi and cheese were the last to go. But after I took a look at the state of our oceans, and what kinds of toxins are being discovered in fish now, it wasn’t hard. Now- I don’t even miss it. Our transition took a little less than a year, and I think we paced ourselves well.
I want to note that there is a Vegan Burlesque group- there’s not a ton of us, but we are there and I for one am totally willing to answer questions and supply links (I’ve amassed a ton). Besides making changes to what goes in my mouth, I decided to really discover why vegans say “want world peace? go vegan!”- For so long it sounded like hippie-dribble but then I started to learn about what’s going on in our world when it comes to animal ethics (how they’re treated). I realized that my feelings and findings about animal rights match up with my feelings about women’s reproductive rights, surprisingly. I started to learn more about sustainability (ie: feeding starving nations and what it actually takes to produce our food resource-wise) and what I found was horrendous, and I cannot participate any longer. Since I was looking for peace within, I decided to eat the most peacefully for me and to do what I can personally do. I have to say that it very much has helped my aspirations for inner tranquility. “There comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but he must take it because conscience tells him it is right.” -Martin Luther King, Jr.
I don’t mean to get so serious on you (in general I’m super goofy, I swear!), but the world is going through so much right now, and I want to see it change! As they say- change starts within. “Be the change that you wish to see in the world.” ― Mahatma Gandhi
Q: Another aspect of your veganism that I found particularly interesting was its impact on your costuming. You’ve stated, “Since my transition to veganism in late 2012 I’ve been learning more what it means to be a performer who no longer purchases costuming items that come from animal sources and phasing out the things I do have and replacing them with other sources as I can afford. The trappings of a showgirl are INTENSE- feathers, furs, leather, all of it. In my most selfish moments I wish my eyes hadn’t been opened at all to the injustices we place on animals, but then I realize that it would cause so much more pain if I had remained ignorant to my part in this world. I believe that peace starts within, and since I’ve transitioned to this kinder, gentler life, I am indeed more peaceful.” What vegan-friendly costuming alternatives have you sought out? Are you finding it difficult or costly to replace existing costume pieces, or have you retired certain pieces (or acts) altogether until you can find suitable replacements?
A: I still have lots of feathers, and there’s not much I can do about it at this time. I plan on loving and using them until they are no longer suitable for stage. Replacing thousands of dollars of feathers on this stripper’s budget (right now) is just not possible. So, I still have pregan stuffs (pre-vegan), but I donated and got rid of what I couldn’t use properly and have no plans of buying animal products in the future.
For shoes, it hasn’t been so bad- since I wear 5 inch spikes typically, there’s all kinds of different materials, and I certainly know how to make a shoe prettier with paint, fabric or baubles. Tulle and chiffon make for excellent boas- I know my vegan stripper sisters have already been successful in making them, and there’s lots of feather alternatives out there. It’s kind of exciting to dream up new ways to make boas or fans though- I look forward to the costuming challenge! I do have to say that a benefit is not spending hundreds and hundreds of dollars of feathers…..now they can go to rhinestones!
Q: You’re an outspoken advocate of the importance of burlesque mentors. You personally sought out your mentor, the incomparable Catherine D’Lish, after making the transition to being a solo performer. Care to touch briefly on the importance of having a mentor and the difference it’s made for you?
A: A mentor can change your life. However- I should say that not every mentor or apprentice is right for each other and that I was incredibly lucky to have had a good fit with Catherine. From Catherine I learned the absolute importance of gaining control over my body and my mind, and to work through things thoroughly. I learned a work ethic that probably unnerves some people- and Catherine’s work ethic and genius is like no other- I remain in awe of her dedication to creating beautiful things. Ultimately it made me happy to somehow learn that I absolutely had permission to value my body and to work on myself to whatever end I desired, and that I should take care of “me” first. Whilst under Catherine’s tutelage I made a variety of different decisions that impacted my entire life- not just my burlesque, like giving up sugar, meditation, yoga, stretching, watching my thoughts/beliefs, way less booze, how to move my body like I’m a 6’2” lady, you know- good stuff. Throughout it all she never blatantly told me what I needed to do, she somehow in her sensei ways cleverly guided me to my own truths. Before I met Catherine I had already placed an intention out to the universe to find a teacher- I have to say it was a better result than I could have imagined! As a performer I would say that my time with a mentor certainly made me a better performer. I’m more present, more engaging, more interesting, more stable and strong, and more loving to my audience. I loved burlesque since I started, but I’m crazy in love with performing now! Having a teacher like that can crack you open to your core and reveal all of the things that you never ever, ever wanted to deal with- a good mentor will hold compassionate (but firm) space for you while you work through it so long as you have a desire to be better. A mentor should want to see you succeed and you should want to learn everything you can help them in any way you can, and you absolutely have to be open-hearted. It’s an exchange of many things, and when your time of apprenticeship is over, it should move you to continue onward and upwards all while paying it forward.
Q: Your popular burlesque advice column, Stripper Talk, is widely read and discussed among the burlesque community. Which topics have you found received the most responses from readers? Have you been surprised by any reactions to your column, or discussions that started as a result of one of your topics?
First off- I feel blessed that so many people have read what I have written, since I can be very opinionated, and I love that it has sparked discussion! Besides Burlycon and smaller discussions at festivals all over the world with your peers, all we have is the internet. We have so many topics that I feel are of the utmost importance to the survival and success of our craft, and they are the same things that readers have really run with and they are:
a) cultural appropriation/racism/isms in general
d) in general how not to be an asshole.
Q: What’s next for Sydni Deveraux?
A: Well, I have this BHOF competition thingy to do and I’ve mostly been focusing on that besides the local gigs that I have coming up. I am STOKED to be performing with and for so many talented performers that weekend and the queen’s category is fully-stocked with so many women that I adore! The backstage time I’m afraid, is going to be a love-fest! After that I have a new act to tackle- it’s quite a different style than I am used to, so I look forward to really getting into the meat and potatoes of it. I’ll keep teaching private sessions and a few bigger classes (I’m venturing into self-improvement workshops for onstage and off, I think), hopefully get back into writing (by the way I’m always taking Stripper Talk questions). I might be starting to produce bigger productions again, in addition to my weekly show and of course I would love to be in some fun shows all over the world- I am always taking new bookings!
Q: Anything you’d like to add?
A: Thank you for asking such tough questions!
We couldn’t think of anyone’s advice we’d rather take than Miss Jo “Boobs” Weldon, Founder of the New York School of Burlesque and author of The Burlesque Handbook, which is why we’re thrilled to have her as our Burlesque Etiquette contributor! Have a question you’d like Jo to answer? Please title your email “Etiquette- _your issue___” and send to editor [at] PinCurlMag [dot] com and we will send them right over to her!
I run the New York School of Burlesque, and I get input all the time from the instructors who work with me, as well as from other headmistresses like Indigo Blue and Ophelia Flame. I also get some input from students, though not as much as I would like. Certain issues come up repeatedly, and I think you’ll see a trend when you see them all in one place!
Teacher/Student Dos and Don’ts
Instructor to Student
Be grateful when students tell you that you’ve inspired them, but remember that inspiration is your job.
Be honest. Don’t prize being liked over getting your students to do their best. Not telling people when what they’re doing doesn’t work is like stealing their time and money.
Make sure your class conforms to the description that prompted the students to register for the class.
Describe your qualifications and accreditation honestly.
Don’t teach what you haven’t studied. However, it’s okay if you can’t do it, as long as you can teach others to do it.
Don’t impress upon students that your pet peeves are universal standards. While advocating what you believe in, do tell them that your approach is one of many. Encourage them to research. Offer them positive examples to emulate rather than negative examples to avoid.
Don’t allow photographers in the class without students’ permission, or make students who don’t want to have photos taken have a different experience of the class than those who do.
Don’t teach other teachers’ material without permission and attribution. A syllabus is actually copyrightable, as is choreography.
Be forgiving. You used to not get it, either.
Student to Instructor
Don’t try to teach the class. You don’t need to point out every exception to the rule, especially in a class on fundamentals. However, a good instructor will often ask students about their experiences when class time permits.
Be on time, or if late, be quiet when entering, and don’t ask to be caught up on other students’ time.
Don’t argue with the payment policy. It was there when you paid, and it’s there to protect the livelihood of the instructors. Most folks will make an exception for a death in the family, but it’s not your school’s fault if you missed the bus.
Don’t ask questions without checking the website first. Everybody in the world gets too much email already.
Tell the instructor if you have a problem, not the other students.
Read the class description carefully and don’t be surprised the class conforms to the description.
If you already knew what the teacher told you, learn from watching the other students in the class learn it.
Give feedback when asked, and offer it when it may be appropriate. Not only is it valuable for the instructors, but it benefits the students who come after you and the burlesque community as a whole.
Don’t teach other teachers’ material without permission and attribution. A syllabus is actually copyrightable, as is choreography. Yes, I’m saying this to both instructors and students.
Be forgiving. Teachers, like performers, occasionally have off days.
Here’s the New York School of Burlesque’s mission statement: “The New York School of Burlesque has worked with Burlycon, Coney Island USA, Tease-O-Rama, and The Burlesque Hall of Fame. These associations inform our aesthetic, our educational approach, and our values.
The essential mission of NYSB is to provide both unique and fundamental classes taught by experienced performers. We strive to promote diversity in performance styles and so present instructors with different interpretations of burlesque. We want to promote instructors who teach both locally and worldwide. We want to provide classes for a variety of student interests: for fun, for fitness, or for preparing to perform. We believe in glamour that is bursting with intelligence. We believe that studying the history of burlesque is an essential component in creating burlesque with depth and character. We believe in the originality that can come from both experience and inexperience. We respect those performers who came before us, those with whom we now work, and those who will come after us. We respect performers who see things our way and performers with different goals and approaches. We believe in asking challenging questions of ourselves and others. We believe in being open to approaches and history beyond our own easily accessible realm. We believe in self-expression and audience appreciation. We believe in the excellence that develops from study and repetition as well as the excitement that comes from experimentation without guarantee of success. We believed in both seasoned and emerging performers. We believe in entertainment for its own sake, as well as for its ability to change the world.”
As I’m clearly invested in this, I look forward to getting more insight from comments on this article! This is part of a bigger project in which I’m hoping to learn what benefits performers and producers feel burlesque classes provide, as well as what responsibilities members of the burlesque community would like burlesque instructors to assume. If you have suggestions, you can email me at email@example.com.
Want to see more of Jo’s etiquette columns? Check out: These Children That You Spit On: Established Performer to New Performer Etiquette, Stage Kitten Etiquette, Making Introductions: Emcee Etiquette, Photos & Pasties, How to Annoy Producers, How to Annoy Performers, I’m Just Saying, Headliner Etiquette – Part 1, Social Media Etiquette for Nearly Naked People
2013 Texas Burlesque Festival Diary
By: Goldie Candela
Where to start? Texas Burlesque Festival is the event I look forward to every year. Since its start in 2007 it’s been a prime example of the Burlesque/Variety community coming together to strut their stuff, shimmy their derrières and twirl their tassels. Through the years the Festival has only become better as the number of applicants grow; this once very local based Showcase and Competition has made a name for itself in the international scene of Burlesque and has hosted 5 Miss Exotic Worlds as well as other super stars and Legends in the industry. I have had the honor of being a part of this festival every year since its beginning, with the exception of my baby hiatus in 2011. And this year only proved to be the best to date with headliners Dirty Martini, Reigning Miss Exotic World Imogen Kelly, Bazuka Joe and Ray Gun of The Stagedoor Johnnies, and Legend Camille 2000.
Thursday night started the Festival off with a huge BANG! This year brought so many new faces, ones I’ve only seen in our Social Media, all together. To this day Thursday night is MY favorite night of the fest because of all the new blood on the stage, either through their experience or the new routines. I was there for check in way too early which everyone knows was actually on time, only myself, Producer Lynn, Frenchie Renard, and the Stagedoor Johnnies were there ready to check in and load in. I went to re-introduce myself to Ray Gunn since he had done the festival last year, and how would he have remembered little ol’ me?…only to have him give me a hug and say he DID remember me…Ah! Then I turned to Bazuka Joe who I hadn’t met in person and I was met with a hug and the words “I follow you religiously on Facebook”…Seriously? PINCH ME NOW! The Johnnies know who I am and like me! YAY! My night couldn’t have gotten better from there…
Doors opened with audience members and half prepped performers filing in to catch the show. On the way in I was able to catch a little face time with this year’s headliners Dirty Martini (rated #1 in the world) and 2012 Reigning Miss Exotic World, Imogen Kelly. Both attired in playful colors and their larger than life personalities (I’m just going to say internal girly squeal did in fact happen). Then with a quick Photo Op with Imogen, Miss Bambi La Fleur (FL), Dirty, Jigglewatts Burlesque Founders Ruby Joule and Coco Lectric, we took our seats. All the while my nerves were alive and well, prepping mentally for my Emerald routine’s debut. I put my whole heart and soul into every routine but this routine was more emotional than any I’ve done, my ode to the family I love and my roots as an Irish lass. The music runs in our blood, well, music and Jameson; the rhythm vibrates through our feet and in my case my G-string.
After seeing Rhinestoned Cowgirls, Classic showgirls, Samba Queens, Pyramids, and my dear friend Man Johnson it was time for this Gold Rush to start prepping, so with a glass of Chardonnay I headed back to the dressing room where Bazuka Joe was beginning to fluff… his feathers, Ray Gunn was in full rehearsal mode, and my fellow Jigglewatts Ruby Joule and Pearl Lux were both prepping for their performances. I love dressing room time and not just because of all the nudity, though that’s a plus, but it’s where you can collect yourself, check your makeup, fluff your hair, get that last G-String check before you go out and show the audience what you’ve taken months to work on…And time for one of my earrings take a swim into Remi Martini’s cocktail. I still have NO idea how that happened….The moment of chaotic Showgirl Zen. Before I knew it, it was time for me to glitter up one last time, shake some Stripper Salt on for an extra juicy stage appearance, and head back stage. My nerves had me wired like a hypertensive Chihuahua but with some sweet words from performers Ron DezVous and my San Antonio pumpkin Vixy Van Helen I was ready. The Music started, the spotlight was on and there I went. Months and months of work and prep all for this. The dress snagged on my shoes which caused it to start coming off earlier than expected, but I being the Queen of the MisHap (seriously some get me a crown already) recovered to an audience full of hoots and hollers.
The night ended with fierce performances by Bazuka Joe, Ray Gunn, Onca O’leary, and Ruby Joule. It’s really no wonder these performers travel all over the world. Absolutely breathtaking. The Audience Choice Award went to one of my favorite people, Miss Lady Luck with her “I’m a Woman” routine. And if you’ve seen it you know why she had the audience on their feet and losing their voices.
Friday Night “The Night of Legends” was sadly missed, myself along with Ruby Joule and Pearl Lux had to hold it down in our weekly revue at The Gibson Lounge-Maggie Mae’s. Getting to play with your family is a small price to pay for missing a night at the Festival. The 8pm show went off without a hitch as we soldiered through 3 solo routines each and Pearl and I performing our notorious Marilyn vs. Jackie Number. Our MC through it all is our Jigglewatts adopted Comedian, Jade Esteban Estrada. Our very own personal Gay/Mexican/Vegan, he really knows how to tell the story with his jokes, banter and songs.
We were able to have a quick bite to eat with our Bunnies, Bunny Blue and Bunny TaTa, across the street at The Jackalope – can I just say I love me some bar snacks? Fried Pickles and buffalo chicken tenders, yum (with a side of a Vegan educating our poor waitress on what constitutes a Vegan meal.) Then it was right back to the venue where we hosted the OFFICIAL After party for TXBF. Running a completely different show from the 8 PM, we pulled out all the stops with our festival routines. There were fans, boas, and rhinestones galore. As audience members and performers from the festival started coming in the room started to fill with excitement. Excitement to be at our home venue and to not let their evening of Burlesque end before 2 AM. Joining us in this show was our special guest and Jigglewatts friend, Crimson Skye of the UK, who got there from the Festival as fast as she could almost stripping her way to the back stage, blowing up her balloons and rubber gloves with the speed of a Texas tornado. The show finished to an up roar of support, love, and booze. As well as some stripping assistance from Miss Pearl Lux, since my Bra apparently felt the need for more stage time and would not come off! ….Now it was time to head home and get ready for the performer’s brunch the next morning. (Audience Choice Award for Friday Night was the out of this world, Cruel Valentine (Chicago, IL). Well deserved. I’ve seen this lady grow and strengthen as a performer over the years. Love her!
Saturday Morning, Performers Brunch: What I love most about this event is the free food. Just kidding. The brunch creates such a comforting social scene where those from all 3 nights can sit have some food and talk. The topic of conversation for this year’s brunch was based on community. How to build a stronger community within ALL of the Burlesque scene. There were many talks about how through competition, community is greatly lost in the larger scene of Burlesque. I do personally feel this to be true. Competition can make Divas and Monsters out of the sweetest of people, if they allow themselves to compete against each other. The best remarks I heard were to remember that every time you step into a show you are competing with yourself not anyone else. I feel in our industry that is the main base for growing. You want to beat the last performance you did. The titles and tiaras, or in this case Barbies, are the extra. The extra little cherry on top, it’s NOT the whole sundae. We here in Texas, especially Austin, are quite spoiled with our want and need to support each other in our community. Yes, we have performers who no matter how many times you lend your branches of wisdom or friendship are just not that interested, as long as there are performers willing to learn from each other, from our Legends, our Burlesque community will continue and hopefully one day Burlesque as a whole will have more unity and support among its members. Just remember we’re all here for the same thing, being naked and glittery.
Saturday Night is always bitter sweet for me. It’s the last day of the Festival which means this time tomorrow you have to rejoin a world that is somewhat scared of side boob and runs away from glitter. The evening started after brunch in the morning, the hunt of the perfect burrito with my blonde twinkie from San Antonio, Suki Jones, for my new Burlesque love, Miss Bambi La Fleur, and then some pool time with some of Denver’s sexiest, dirtiest ladies of the VaVa Vettes, Remi Martini and her awesome Burlesque Hubby, Sam with Frenchy. Pretty sure if I ever have to move to Colorado I’d be more than OK with that. After introducing these ladies to some Torchy’s Tacos it was time to haul over to the Holiday Inn and finish getting ready with my Twinkie and my Strawberry Sista Remi. We made it in the nick of time where I was able to say hello again to my big ol’ Burlesque family grab a cocktail and get my seat. The theater was packed full and the energy for those performing was intense. Cora Vette took the stage and with that the night began. So many tricks and teases I’m not sure how the judges were able to score, I don’t envy that job, just give me some wine and let me enjoy. From crossdressing performances to the classical tease and then the Vaudevillian variety of aerialists, this night was packed with more mind blowing talent then you could ever dream. Cora Vette took the spotlight with her Snow White routine, all I can say is, DAMN! With that it was time for the Headliners Bazuka Joe in his Speed Racer glory, Ray Gunn and his sexy Pole routine, then it would be Imogen Kelly in her Title winning performance. The Flamingo act is NOT to be missed! If you have a chance to see her perform live, do yourself a favor, DO IT! To end the night #1 in the world herself, Dirty Martini would take the stage in her Jimi Hendrix Boa number, dawned in a beautiful purple sequined evening dress. I was lucky enough to catch her in San Francisco for Tease O-Rama in 2012 with this routine and it only gets more intoxicating every time.
After a curtain call of the performers it was time to give out the Texas Burlesque Fest “Best” Awards (known as the stripper Barbies) made by none other than Black Mariah (Dallas, TX) who herself performed a fantastic routine to Fat Bottom Girls in a one of a kind costume I’m still drooling over.
Winners of the night were:
Best Costume – Tiny D – Brooklyn, NY
Best Use of Prop/Novelty – Bobbie Burlesque – Hollywood, CA
Best Ensemble – Queertini Time – Austin, TX
Most Original – Crimson Skye- London, UK
Best Tease Factor – Franki Markstone – St. Petersburg, FL
Best Solo – Peggy De Lune – Columbus, OH/London UK
A big congrats to the winners and to EVERYONE who performed this year. The show was excellent and I am so proud to have been able to be a part of it again this year. Through its amazing growth I cannot wait to see what next year brings. Big thank yous to Producers Lynn Raridon and Coco Lectric – ladies, you know how to throw one heck of a festival. To the crew who makes the festival run for 3 days – Stacy Rutledge (Former Kitty Kitty Bang Bang troupe member, the original hosting troupe of Texas Burlesque Festival), Jonny Reynolds, Midge aka Sasha Doll, and the Boys back stage, you’re the classiest pervs I’ve ever been able to work with.
Then there was the dance party……. Check photos on Facebook and interpret that one for yourself.
You can catch me in my next festival, the Show Me Burlesque Festival May 16th in St. Louis, MO with Van Ella Productions and even more of my Burlesque family I love and those I have yet to meet.
Love from Texas’ Very Own Gold Rush,
Burbank, California-based pin-up model, boutique babe and vintage maven Doris Mayday talks her first shoot, transitions, sexism, and the truth behind reality TV.
Interview: Divertida Devotchka
Q: You were born and raised in Las Vegas, and you started college early at age 16 and began modeling right before you turned 18. You’ve stated that you were always a “vintage nerd” and never actually planned to model, but rather that it “fell into your lap.” Care to share how exactly you stumbled upon such a dream job?
A: It all started off as a favor. There was a new calendar coming out called Lucky Betties, and the creator, Jessi Pagel, was friends with my boyfriend at the time. She needed a blonde for one of her calendar girls, so even though I had done no prior modeling, I agreed to it. I couldn’t have asked for a better first gig! Jessi was so involved and passionate that I got to see all the aspects and hardwork that goes into a proper photoshoot. Understanding the importance of hair and makeup artists, wardrobe, lighting, locations, styling, and originality made me fall in love with the photoshoot process. I really enjoyed working with her so much that I ended up helping a lot with promotion. From those events, I wound up meeting a lot of people in this industry and creating relationships. At the time though, my heart was still set on being a sex therapist. I never thought my love of vintage fashion and decor would ever amount to a career, or that I was any good at modeling. To me, I was just having fun, but to others I was told I was a breath of fresh air because I had genuine interest.
Q: You managed the Bettie Page Store at the Fashion Show Mall in Vegas, and you also managed the Bettie Page Store that opened in 2011 in the Mall of America in Minnesota. You started as a model for their company many years ago, right? How did you move into the store management role? Was it a difficult transition moving to Minnesota?
A: When I started off as a model for Bettie Page Clothing, I initially sent in my résumé months prior when I caught wind of the store opening. When the owners knew I wanted to be more than just a pretty face for them and that I wanted to actually work, they hired me! Starting a store, you have a million things thrown your way and I was always rolling with the punches. After proving that I could handle more responsibility and with a smile on my face, when opportunities came up for expansion I was promoted. For the Mall of America location, I did that location on my own. At the time, I had fallen in love with a man from Minnesota. I knew I wanted to move out there, but I didn’t want to leave my company, so I started scouting locations and found a great one! I did all the meetings and paperwork behind my bosses back, and when it was time to sign on the dotted line, I presented it to them with a heartfelt plea for us to expand there. Moving to Minnesota was incredibly easy, and I am still incredibly smitten with the state. Some of the nicest people around, and talk about great vintage!
Q: Speaking of transitions, you’re now the manager of the Pinup Girl Clothing Boutique, which opened in August 2012 in Burbank, California. You met Laura Byrnes (owner/creator of PUG) at a clothing convention when you were only 18 or 19 years old, and began working for them as a model, right? How did that relationship evolve into the position you have now?
A: When I met Laura Byrnes, we instantly hit it off. Shortly after, she asked me to start modeling. I would come out a few times a year to Los Angeles to shoot and we would always wrap the end of the day with a great dinner with long talks. There was always mention of one day of them having a boutique, but Laura is a perfectionist and always was holding out for all the stars to align. Last year, I found myself in Minnesota at a cross roads where I was no longer feeling challenged and that I was missing opportunities. I decided to quit Bettie Page and move to California and give it a go since a lot of TV and modeling jobs are there. It so happened that the time couldn’t have been better, and Pinup Girl was finally ready. Laura knew of my work experience and asked if I would manage the opening. Thank goodness! Now I don’t have to be a starving artist in LA!
Q: Tell us about the process of opening the boutique! Now that the shop has been open for over six months, what have you found to be the most rewarding aspect of the job? What have some of the biggest challenges been?
A: Pinup Girl allowed me to be incredibly hands on and involved with getting the store in tip top shape. There were a million renovations we had to do from construction, to new tile, painting, sanding, molding and styling. I’m pretty sure I can start a new business called Pin Up Handy-woman! There were many 20 hour days in the final stretch before opening. But having customers come in and say how impressed they are with the final look made it all worth it.
Q: I was intrigued (and surprised!) by a post about the PUG Boutique receiving its first hate mail. Some angry passerby slipped a note through the doors of the shop stating, “not to take it personal, but why would anyone want to be a pinup girl? They are only ‘whack-off’ objects!” Understandably, your team shook it off as funny, but also considered that it’s sad that some people still think that the only reason a woman would dress nicely is to attract a man, as opposed to simply wanting to feel good about herself. This also made me wonder – as a well-known pin-up model, have you had people react that way to you/your job as well? How do you respond to those people (if at all?)
A: Unfortunately, sexism is still very much around in 2013. There have been countless times where people have doubted my intellectualism as well as my motives due to my appearance. Some women use that to their advantage and can play the dumb or promiscuous female role but I think that just ends up hurting women worse. I understand that there is a time after the 1950s where women wanted to throw on the pants and power suits and prove their equality to the male counterparts but at Pinup Girl our argument is that there is no reason why you can’t be respected in a well tailored dress. If someone is going to view you as a “wack-off object” or an inferior female that’s their problem and it should never steer you away from how you want to dress.
Q: Being that you’re a lover of vintage style, I was surprised to learn that you typically shy away from wearing vintage hats, thinking that they don’t flatter you or that they’re too “over the top.” I enjoyed reading your resolution to make 2013 “the Year of the Hat,” and that you’re trying to wear at least one hat per week. So far you’ve said that it makes you feel “classier, ladylike, mysterious, and even sometimes spy-like,” and that more of us should get over the notion of feeling silly in hats. I love this idea and was wondering, how is your hat-per-week goal progressing? Are you still getting the reactions and feelings that you were initially?
A: With any resolution you start off with a bang and I was doing rather well in the beginning. I have slowed down a little bit but recently I rocked a fabulous turban that has put the fire back under my tush… or should I say my hat! I’ve realized that I have to keep my hats on display in my beauty room so that I’m reminded to put them on.
Q: Last year you were featured on TLC’s “My Crazy Obsession” for your “obsession” with all things related to 1950s culture and style, which given the nature of our magazine, we can totally appreciate! What sort of reactions did you see from viewers? Were any of your friends or family surprised by the fact that you appeared on the show or some of the things that you said or did? I’ve seen some of your fans comment that they felt like the show exaggerated your “obsession” and was edited to play up the “craziness.” Do you have any thoughts on that? Knowing what you know now, would you still have agreed to be featured on the show?
A: When I first signed onto the project there was no name for this production and it was described as a documentary. They seemed generally interested in my life as well as my boyfriend at the time who is in a rockabilly band. I spent months coming up with a story line for filming that would be realistic. As much as people want to think that reality TV is real, it is generally scripted so I wanted it to be as genuine as possible. After signing my life away I found out 2 days before filming that the show was going in a new direction and called “My Crazy Obsession” and eccentricity was the key subject. All of a sudden I was being told what to say and do. I had to act like I didn’t have a cell phone or computer and risk spraining my ankle by putting silly bags on my feet instead of modern snow boots. It is easy for people to say how they would never do that but when you have a camera crew who flew out all the way from New York sitting in your living room on a time crunch who are being yelled at by their superiors, you will do anything to just get it all over with. My boyfriend was rather disappointed with the new direction the show had gone in and they didn’t even showcase anything about him, even though initially we were told it would showcase his band. In interviews they only got him to crack once and say something forced, so of course that’s the only clip they used of him. It was rather embarrassing but a majority of the feedback I received was positive. I think people were too busy looking at my clothes and furniture to notice the ridiculous story line… Thank God! We did get to go on Anderson Cooper which was an amazing experience. Being able to go out in public and use a cell phone is now like putting on a mustache and glasses. I literally have had people whisper how they think I’m the girl from TV but there is no way because I’m on a cell phone. So all in all I don’t know if I would do that again.
Q: Though it’s a topic I’m sure you grow weary of discussing, let’s chat about your hair for a second. I read an interview from 2010 in which you mentioned that your signature blonde locks quickly became a trademark, and at that time you mentioned that you wanted to change your hair color but couldn’t. Obviously, you made the leap to go dark since then, and last summer you went red! What changed your mind about making the switch? I’m sure your fans are quite opinionated about your choices of hair color, aren’t they?
A: You would think I kicked a puppy when I dyed my hair from blonde to brunette! People apparently view my hair as their domain and almost seemed offended I would change it. I was always called the blonde Doris and it was getting on my nerves. Why couldn’t I just be called Doris? What was the big deal about being blonde? Thankfully I did some photo shoots with the dark locks and people really started to like it. I started getting references to Sherilyn Fenn, who is a girl crush of mine so I knew the change was a good move. I actually wanted to go red before dark but at the time I had an abundance of red headed friends. When I moved to LA I thought it would be a good time to try red. I think changing my hair color has actually been a good thing because I can be more relatable to different people. People are always going to have an opinion on what Doris they prefer, but frankly dear… I don’t give a damn.
American Treasure Blanche DeBris (“white trash” in French, but Always High-Class!) talks rapping, failed careers, Edelweiss and volunteering at The Burlesque Hall of Fame Museum.
Interview: Miss Violet O’Hara
Q: In 2012, you famously opened the Burlesque Hall of Fame Weekend with your original “Movers, Shakers and Innovators” rap and claimed your place among the emcees on that most coveted stage. Can we expect to see you perform more original raps in the near future? Are there any that you are currently developing?
A: First off, can you believe I got to be on that stage?? That whole weekend was an absolute surreal dream. I was so overwhelmed after they invited me to host I was nauseous for two months! I was so terrified of being entrusted with this honor and then messing things up. So I was in the shower, where I get all my ideas, I was thinking how ridiculous it was that I would be hosting the pinnacle event of Burlesque, and thought “What else is something that is so ridiculous there’s no way I should be doing it?” And that’s how I got the idea for doing a rap song! I’ve since done another rap, a much shorter one, that I wrote for the Minneapolis Burlesque Festival, and it was a mashup of Prince’s “Let’s Go Crazy” and Led Zeppelin’s “The Immigrant Song.” Prince, well because he’s a Minneapolis boy, and Immigrant Song because it’s a song about Vikings!
I have to give a huge, ground-shaking shout out to my dear Eric “Travis” Wilson, the Mashup Cowboy himself, who did all the music and recording for the Movers, Shakers, Innovators rap. He does all my tracks. I’m so ridiculously lucky to know him. He also did the voiceover intros for me and Mat Fraser for BHOF. Eric is such a genius; he’s like a secret ninja weapon. He plays every instrument, records and edits it all, and he comes up with ideas for me, and writes with me. And I get to pay him by doing things to him he likes and that I would do anyway!
I do love the challenge of coming up with a specific song/rap for a special occasion! I torture myself with it really, it takes me a looong time to write something that I’m happy with. And rapping is hard, all those words have to come out of my mouth so fast! But I have to say, I really like it, and yes, I think there might be a few more original raps in the future, but I’ll probably have to find another music style before people get tired of me. I can just hear it, “oh jeez….not aNOTHER rap song from Blanche….”
Q: Recently you were in Dallas on the grand stage of Viva Dallas Burlesque for their Bedtime Stories show. One of your signature acts, “The Sound of Music in Six Minutes”, had the entire audience singing along to “Do-Re-Mi”, “My Favorite Things” and “Edelweiss”. At the end of your routine they were up on their feet as avid new Blanche DeBris fans. How does it feel to be embraced with such uninhibited enthusiasm by Texas? When will you be moving here?
A: Really? You’d like to keep me? Let me pack my eyelashes and I’ll be right over! You know, I still can’t believe that I’m being asked to come to cities like Dallas, I’m so used to being asked to LEAVE cities like Dallas. Most often with a law enforcement escort.
But oh my gosh the audience at Viva Dallas Burlesque! First off, are they some of the good-lookingest people or what? Everyone was dressed up for the theme of the show, Bedtime Stories! Lingerie and silk and satin robes and funny pjs with feet and trap doors in ‘em, oh it was terrific. THAT’s the way to turn out for a show!
I had so many people come up to me after the show to tell me how much Sound of Music meant to them, and how they loved the movie as a kid. Watch it again as an adult and you discover a lot more! I tell ya it’s like finding all these secret members of a club you had no idea you belonged to! I’m so surprised and relieved that other people enjoy my little obsession with the Von Trapp story (as told by Rodgers & Hammerstein). And to have that HUGE crowd singing along…all of us singing together, it’s pure joy. You know, I really do get choked up every time I sing Edelweiss, thinking of the Von Trapp family saying goodbye to everything they every knew and loved, a whole country, a lifetime of memories, leaving it all behind. And singing Edelweiss I just look at everyone in the audience and I feel so humbled, and so grateful to be there in that moment, all of us together. It’s really pure magic, you know, all these strangers happening to be in this theatre at the same time, yet everyone knows these songs. Even if they don’t *know* they know them, there they are singing along! All of us, making music together in the dark. That’s what the magic is. That’s the art.
I saw this one-woman show Lily Tomlin did, The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe – Gosh is Lily Tomlin stupendously terrific. Really, if it’s on DVD you should watch it. Anyways… she plays one character, a homeless lady named Trudy, who meets a space alien and tries to explain what “art” is to him. She shows the alien a can of tomato soup, and then she shows the alien Andy Warhol’s painting of a can of tomato soup. “This is soup! This is art!” she tells him. But the alien isn’t convinced. So she takes the alien to see a Broadway play, but the alien watches the audience the whole time. And afterwards she asks the alien why the heck was he watching the audience? And the alien says “The play was soup. The audience, art.” That’s what I feel about the audiences everywhere I go. What ever I’m doing is just soup. The audience’s participation, that’s what makes the magic.
Q: Your bawdy humor has been heard on festival circuit stages across the country including The Minneapolis Burlesque Festival, The Moisture Festival, The New Orleans Burlesque Festival and The Windy City Burlesque Festival. Any backstage antics, travel nightmares or serendipitous coincidences you’d like to share regarding your festival experiences?
A: You know, a year ago, the only other place besides Las Vegas that I’d done Burlesque was Seattle, my burlesque birthplace. Not even a year ago, 10 months ago! I’ve never felt so welcomed and accepted unconditionally and fiercely as I do in the world of Burlesque. Finally I found my Tribe, or the Tribe found me!
I’ve not had any travel nightmares, other than the usual panic of worrying if my suitcases will make it. But I could tell a tale on myself! So, I’m at SEA-TAC airport, and I’m headed back to Vegas after spending two weeks in Seattle where I had been just soaked in burlesque and variety and the carnival community of Moisture Festival. And I get to security. So, I take off my shoes and put them in the X-ray bin. And I take off my jacket, and my scarf, and put it in the X-ray bin. And then I take off my pants. Um, yeah. I don’t need to take off my pants to go through security. But after two weeks of burlesque shows, it’s become such a habit to take off my clothes, that I just instinctually de-pants’d myself. For once my brain did start back up again and I pulled my pants back on before I got kicked out of yet ANOTHER city…
I’m still in the afterglow of the Minneapolis Burlesque Festival this January. The camaraderie and raucous, riotous, joyous love and support and excitement that everyone had for each other. Oh it was just splendid. You’d be trying to get ready for your own act, and you’d hear this cheering coming from the viewing lounge/green room that was backstage, and so you’d run in to watch what was happening on the monitors because you just didn’t want to miss a moment. And we’d be screaming our heads off backstage, watching the TV, and as soon as the performer exited the stage we’d be screaming for them again as they ran back to the dressing rooms!
At the New Orleans Burlesque Festival, I traveled & roomed with Legend Bambi Jones, who lives in Vegas. Lordy that woman is an unstoppable force. She’ll be in the bar ‘til 5am and want to keep going! Well, Bambi worked a lot in the clubs in NOLA in the 50’s; you should read her book because she talks all about it. So, she wanted to take a walk down Bourbon Street and see some of the places she used to headline. Now they’ve all been turned into pizza joints and frozen drink places. But with her book in hand, which had pictures of the clubs she was in, we walked through the Quarter and she gave me her personal walking tour of burlesque in New Orleans. How lucky am I that I got to do that?? When we were walking back to the hotel, a young man across the street starting playing the trumpet, a slow, warm, sexy rendition of ‘The Nearness of You.’ And Bambi stopped still and said “My husband used to sing that, in the shows we did together here.” So we stood, listening to that lone trumpet. I could only imagine the seas of memory that Bambi was sailing as we were transfixed in that voodoo magic New Orleans has, of a stranger playing a trumpet in the street and creating a stop in time. That’s a moment that burlesque has bestowed on me. How can a girl not feel humbled and overwhelmed?
Q: In your broad repertoire of spunky and offbeat acts; which is your absolute favorite to perform on your home turf as the “forever hostess” of Live Burlesque in Las Vegas? Do you have any routines that you only perform in Vegas?
A: Well, at Live Burlesque in Las Vegas I usually try to come up with something to fit the theme of the show, so that means it’s a one-time only performance. I’ve been keeping my clothes on though, since it’s hard for me to concentrate when I know I gotta keep pasties on. So mostly I do songs. Like at our sci-fi show I sang the theme from Star Trek. It has words, look ‘em up! But thinking about it, we did a 60’s/Psychadelic theme show and I rewrote the lyrics to the Petula Clark song “Downtown,” and I’ve since done that in New Orleans and at a private show in Vegas, so that’s now something in my repertoire. Heh, repertoire. Sounds so French!
Honestly though, I don’t really have that many “acts” per se. It takes me a long, long time to pull stuff together. Probably because I just want to do so much in one act that I spend months and months and months trying to figure out how to make things happen. All my ideas come to me in the shower! I’m lucky that I know so many people who make props or build sets or who do magic or that I have my awesome sound and music ninja Eric who I can turn to for help & advice. It takes a village to make a Blanche DeBris act! I’ve got three acts I am working on in my mind right now. And they all involve elaborate construction and props, even though I know that means traveling with any one act will mean a lot of fees in excess luggage. But maybe by announcing them here it’ll force me to start getting things outta the shower, and onto the worktable!
Q: Congratulations on your teaching debut! This February your first class, “Act Like You Mean It,” focused on helping performers connect to their burlesque persona and character. Do you have plans to expand this class and/or teach more often?
A: Thank you! I guess I learned something after so many failed careers, enough to teach about it. It was a learning experience for me, and now I have a better idea of what the class really is. Ooh, that’s spooky…a good chunk of the class is about finding out who you are onstage, and teaching the class has taught ME how to connect to how to teach the class! I would like it to be a four or six week class, because it’s long, hard work, but oh so delicious and rewarding and fun to do. Discovering & nourishing who you are onstage, and then how to bring the best ‘Onstage You’ to the audience. How to be present in every moment, with sincerity, owning it, never leaving the audience bored or wondering what you’re doing. My teaching mission is “no more ‘step-touch’ choreography!” Because I think I’ve figured out that the common thread to all the performers and acts I’ve seen that have made me warm in the pink bits, is that they fill every moment. There’s no hesitation, no ‘I’ll fill in the blank with a few arm gestures until I get to this next really cool bit in the music.’ And I think a lot of that has to do with not feeling relaxed or prepared enough and not trusting the “beats” of the story you are telling, not being afraid to take your time with each morsel. I love, LOVE slowness! Sloooow and pregnant with intention and action and a promise of things to come! Oh my goodness, I don’t know what just happened there, I sounded like I know what I’m talking about. That probably won’t happen again!
Q: As an accomplished emcee, what advice would you give to other hosts making their way in our community? Are there any classes, workshops, books or other references that you consider to be crucial for a talented emcee to devour?
A: *thud* Oh sorry, I had to pick myself off the floor because you called me “accomplished.” You slay me, Violet! I can’t believe I get left alone with a microphone allowed to wander around onstage! I was first given a chance to co-host by the wonderful people at The Moisture Festival, and that helped ease me into it. That’s some advice I can give, if you wanna try emceeing. Ask an established emcee to be their co-host! Cha Cha Velour in Las Vegas was the first person to let me do it by myself, I have her to thank for the chance to have a place to play every month, so I could get better. Cause honestly the only way to get better is to do it. And boy am I still learning. I never took any classes or read any books on hosting. If I learned anything it was by watching a lot of shows…A LOT of shows. And I just tried to be like these great emcees I’ve seen (not just in burlesque shows, variety shows, talent shows and even awards ceremonies). So then I tried to figure out how to be like them, but in my own style. That’s important, figuring out what kind of emcee you are. It also helps when you see a show/host that’s not so good and to learn what NOT to do, by the way!
Kate Valentine, (Miss Astrid, what an idol of mine!!) said something like, an emcee is not the frosting on the cake, they are the eggs. And to me I think that means you gotta hold the show together, and not let what you do be an afterthought. And don’t let the batter stand there too long. Move it along! Lola Van Ella paid me the most wonderful complement, backstage after I emceed at the New Orleans Festival, that she liked that I made it a show. That stupendous woman, telling me that! Whee! I was so happy to hear that, because that’s what I strive for.
You can learn a lot too, from really messing up onstage. If you’re gonna mess up, mess up big, but remember to laugh and learn from it! I will say, though, you gotta do your homework when you emcee. Get your intros together, have ideas for things you can do, or stories you can tell, in case you gotta fill time onstage. Be as prepared as you can be. And then get onstage and be prepared for all of that to go out of the window! Because again, the audience makes it not be soup, all the spontaneous stuff that happens with them becomes the show too. I love being in on the experience. I’m always the biggest fan seeing the show that night, so I am the lucky gal to get to be an audience member and say what I’m thinking out loud…and I get to touch the performers to boot!
Q: The Burlesque Hall of Fame Museum is near and dear to your heart. As a volunteer you’ve met many Legends as well as strangers from all over the world who have personal connections to the world of burlesque. Will you share with us a few of your favorite moments from your time at the museum? Do you have a favorite exhibit, costume or other piece of memorabilia?
A: The Burlesque Hall of Fame Museum is beloved of everyone in burlesque! It’s our legacy! We’re making it happen! I’m just lucky I live in Vegas so I can volunteer there, though I’m sad this year I haven’t been able to as much because I’ve been traveling. Right now, the space is smaller than people expect, I think. Which means all the more reason to support the museum’s mission to one day have a big, wonderful building where they can properly display the boxes and boxes of historic costumes and photos and diaries and memorabilia that are in storage! The thing is, because of the delicate condition of so many pieces, they really have to be conserved and displayed very carefully. So what is on display in the museum right now is the tiniest fraction of the collection. There is a feather from Sally Rand’s fan, next to her picture. There is one of Blaze Starr’s dresses, a g-string from Tempest Storm. Oh, there is a costume from a Minsky chorus girl, that’s a favorite of mine! And there’s so many postcards and pictures to love on and cherish! And a Timeline of Burlesque which I’m trying my best to memorize.
I like that the Museum is sort of a natural hang out for the burly community in Vegas. Last year every week I’d meet (Burlesque Legend) Dusty Summers there for coffee and cupcakes, (the museum is in a big Arts Center that has a lovely coffee shop right inside). And ALWAYS someone else would drop by, other Legends like Tiffany Carter, and then another someone, and before you know it, it’s a regular party.
My favorite though, is that when I’d be volunteering at the Musuem, someone would always come in who had a very personal connection to burlesque. Their moms or aunts or grandmothers were performers, or dads or grandfathers were singers or comedians or emcees. And they’ll talk about all the people their relatives worked with, the cities and theatres they played, and sometimes it would be a picture on the wall of the museum that would start them telling their story. I had a lady come in with her husband, and her dad used to work in Ann Corio’s show, This Was Burlesque, as one of the comedians. And we had a DVD of Ann Corio’s show at the museum, so we put it in my crappy laptop that I had with me, and scanned the show to see if her dad was in it. I wanted so bad to find him!! But he wasn’t on the DVD, the show did run nearly 30 years so I knew there was a chance it wouldn’t be the run he was in. But we talked about some people she might be able to contact to find another recording. Oh jeez I really hope she did.
My heart aches when I think of all the stories and costumes and pictures that have been lost! Or that are still out there, but they haven’t found their way to the Museum yet. When burlesque family members come in and ask if they can bring pictures in, oh my gosh yes yes yes!! And someday the Museum will have a place to show all of them!
Q: Las Vegas Weekly said that your “stage presence marries Phyllis Diller with Miss Piggy, then somehow makes it funnier.” Who are your inspirations and idols? Have you met any of them in the real world?
A: It makes sense that I’d be compared to a Muppet. In my head I’m a bit like Pee Wee Herman too.
When I was a little girl at the Ranch, I spent a lot of time watching this old black and white TV with my headphones on because I had to keep quiet. And there weren’t many channels, but there were always these wonderful movies on. I didn’t know they were old timey, I thought that’s what the outside world was like. Movies about these beautiful girls in big shows, girls who wore these costumes and danced, and that had the most musical voices! I just wanted to be like them so much.
And then there is the Carol Burnett Show. It’s probably obvious that she is one of my biggest inspirations. Her cast and writers and the sketches on that show. Such genius. They should be required viewing! And Bob Mackie costumes to boot! Oh I could faint with joy thinking of it! There’s an homage to her in my Sound of Music act, if you notice!
The characters Carol created were so huge and full and FUNNY, but she could also be so poignant and real. Do you remember when Eunice went on the Gong Show, which was such a big deal and was gonna be her ticket out of town, but she got gonged? It went from being ridiculous and over the top, to being so honest and quiet and heartbreaking. Boy does that ever prove her talent, to be able to admit to an audience the flipside of being a fantastic comedian is that kind of vulnerability. And oh oh oh, the comedy! I never laughed so hard as when they would just crack each other up in the sketches, they would try to hold it together but the struggle was immense, which made it even funnier. And they kept it all in the show, they wouldn’t edit it out! Absolute spontaneous magic. And wouldn’t you know, that’s all burlesque tradition, that show, those sketches and characters and comedic interludes, with music and dance numbers. It’s pure vaudeville and burlesque. If I ever met Carol Burnett, I think I’d just lose my mind!!
As for my burlesque idols, tt was emceeing at BHOF Weekend that made it possible to meet so so many of them. I was never brave enough to go up and introduce myself. I am so star-stuck and tongue-tied around them! And then, when I floated offstage after the Movers, Shakers show, all of a sudden these luminaries were coming up to ME and HUGGING me and talking to me, and I was just trying to not burst into tears or faint, seriously! To have Ray Gunn engulf me in those gorgeous arms?? Or Minnie Tonka hold my hand and whisper love to me?? OR DIRTY MARTINI hug me and say hello?? When Dirty Martini hugged me, I just said out loud “Dirty Martini is hugging me right now!” because all brain filters just dissolved! There are still a LOT of performers I’ve been too shy to approach. Some are in Vancouver and I’ll have to cowboy up and just tell them finally how I feel!
Q: It’s rumored that one day we’ll all be able to learn from your well-meaning yet horribly misguided tips, tricks and pep talks via the magic of the internet and your “Guides to Life” webisodes. Are there any tidbits you’d like to share before those launch from your failed careers as a Life Coach and Spokesmodel?
A: Oh I hope those rumours are true!! You know, my mommies & grandma lady back at the Ranch always had a lot of advice for me. Like…they’d tell me to do something, and if I said “I’ll try” the grandma lady would say “There’s no such thing as ‘try,’ Blanche. There’s only ‘mess it up one more damn time and you’re getting locked back in the closet ‘til you get it right.’” It’s that kind of encouragement and positive, reinforcement that forces you to have a “can do” attitude, and that’s I want to pass on to as many people as can take it! I still don’t know why my Life Coaching didn’t work out. I guess not many people wanted to trust me with their lives.
Q: 2013 has already been a big year for Blanche DeBris! Your official Vancouver debut in the Taboo Revue and Kitty Nights is this Spring. What else can we expect from Blanche in 2013 and beyond?
A: This past year has been, well, I couldn’t have dreamed up something to match what has happened. Really the past 10 months, starting with getting to host BHOF, and it was like all these doors and windows and skylights opened up, and I’m still reeling, honestly, at the avalanche of friendships and invitations that have enveloped me!
So if they let me into Canadia, after that I go “home” to Seattle to the Moisture Festival, and have a big family reunion! Then I’m gonna be staying in Reno for three months, visiting some of my mommies. While I’m in Reno I’m gotta start working on my own ideas for a one woman-ish show, which so many people have said I should do, so I guess I better start listening to them and do it already. I’m envisioning a sort of Pee Wee’s Playhouse kind of show. Stay tuned!
I will be back in Vegas for BHOF time though, I wouldn’t miss it! After that, I’ll continue hosting Live Burlesque in Las Vegas for as long as they’ll have me, and Cha Cha Velour and I are working on a creating a Holiday Extravaganza, a production show we hope will become an annual Vegas tradition. I’m extremely excited about that. But otherwise my schedule is open if anyone wants me to visit! As for dreaming big…oh it would be wonderful if I could have a TV show like Carol Burnett did. I’d have all my friends on it! And then with Eric “Travis” Wilson maybe we’d build an Always High-Class entertainment empire, and have, like, inspirational books, and toys, and a line of snack foods & candy! And glitter! Glitter and candy!!
By: Lillith Grey
I recently launched a new project, the Academy of Queerlesque, and I have been getting a lot of interesting reactions from people in the local burlesque community. The reactions haven’t been negative at all; they’ve been generally supportive but confused and unsure of what queerlesque means or what place it has in the broader burlesque scene. There is no shortage of allies in the Dallas burlesque community – on the contrary, the community is warm, loving, and accepting, and I have no doubt that if I wanted to douse myself in rainbow glitter and run around a stage yelling “I’M A DYKE” as part of my act, I could find a producer and an audience that would appreciate it here. Last year, a local straight(ish) performer did a Muppet-against-Chick-fil-A act in front of a huge mainstream audience and was very well received. A popular local host is a wildly gender-bending drag queen and budding boylesque star. All-in-all, being queer in the Dallas burlesque scene is pretty freakin’ cool.
So it’s not surprising that many of the people around me are not sure how to feel about this project. They’re wondering why I felt the need to start a series of performance education classes focused specifically on the queer community when the queer community is so welcomed in mainstream burlesque. Some of them don’t know what queer means, let alone the concept of queerlesque. And, although none of my kind friends and burly colleagues have said this to me directly, I wouldn’t be surprised if there might be a twinge of hurt or rejection, or maybe the feeling that I’m somehow blaming them or saying I don’t feel welcomed here, which is absolutely not true. Hopefully I can answer some of these questions and be open about what my motivation and vision is for the academy.
Before I can talk about queerlesque, though, I want to be sure I’m being clear about the terminology I’m using, particularly the word queer. Society at large conceptualizes gender as a dichotomy – only two options: boy or girl. Researchers, scholars, and social justice advocates (particularly those in the women’s movement) have a lot to say about this perceived dichotomy, and more and more people are coming to realize that those two categories don’t really make much sense. There are so many ways to be a guy and so many ways to be a girl, it seems weird to have all these expectations about femininity/masculinity connected to somewhat arbitrary body parts (WARNING: BABY WITH PENIS WILL EXPLODE IF TOUCHED BY PINK FABRIC). So a more diverse and accurate understanding might fit better on a spectrum, rather than two checkboxes. Taking the body parts out of the picture, we can loosely classify gender like this:
We’ve all known men who embody more traditionally feminine characteristics, and women who tend toward the masculine (my fav). If you were to put yourself on that spectrum where would you fall? Does it change sometimes? Mine does, depending on how I feel – sometimes I’m all high heels and glam, sometimes I’m in jeans at the gun range. In fact, that’s one of the things I love about performing – pushing my gender alllll the way to the tip of the spectrum (ten points if you know how many rhinestones I can fit on my eyelid!) And that’s the fun and appeal of drag – jumping drastically on the spectrum. Some people feel strongly identified with one place on the spectrum, and that’s cool, while other people feel most comfortable moving around it more fluidly.
Unfortunately, social messages about the relative meaning of those points on the spectrum are misleading and often harmful. We are taught early on that men should be manly and women should be ladylike, that boys should only strive to push themselves closer to the masculine and never ever to the feminine (ballet and skirts? Doubtful). Girls can push toward the masculine a little bit (playing sports, wearing pants), but cannot go past a certain line without social repercussions. Breaking these rules of gender is very, very dangerous – it is the root of gay- and trans*-bashing and is strongly related to violence against women.
Because I was born into a woman’s body and I also happen to identify as highly feminine (I am cisgender), I carry some privilege in the mainstream culture. No one looks at me funny, no one taunts me or challenges me or threatens me, no one feels the need to heap their biases on me. I don’t visibly appear to break the rules of gender. So very many people I love, though, do visibly break the rules. They are so brave and self-aware and confident and insightful that they will not conform to an unreasonable and inaccurate method of categorization. They choose instead to live authentically, and they pay the price for that, from tiny micro-aggressions to overt acts of violence.
Enter the world of the queer. In this world, we collectively reject those stupid checkbox genders – we shatter them as we dance wildly around the spectrum. We dance around the spectrum of sexuality, too, defying labels that are dichotomous, knowing we don’t have to be either “gay” or “straight,” but can love and connect with people freely and in whatever way feels right. Queer takes away the need to categorize – I mean, if someone moves around the gender spectrum, does that make a feminine gay dude a lesbian? Am I not a “real” lesbian because my partner is masculine? Wait, what? THESE WORDS ARE STUPID. Ain’t nobody got time for that!
So queer gives us space to connect, to celebrate, and to feel safe with other people who don’t live in the world of heterosexism and heteronormativity. While we love and respect and care for our friends who do live in that world (the vast majority of the burlesque community), we don’t have that comfort of normalcy. We don’t put on queer when we get to the theater and take it off after curtain call, we live it every single day. We face the oppression and hate and discrimination aimed at our people, our family, every single day. And it is exhausting. It’s exhausting to walk the tightrope of safety, to wonder if your identity will cause someone to harm you. It’s hard to hear people tell stupid jokes, make mean comments, use the word “gay” to mean something bad or unbearable. It sucks to see friends and family post hateful political messages on Facebook. It’s heartwrenching to read about another murder, another suicide, another assault. Every. Single. Day.
And we take risks when we take queerlesque to the mainstream stage. It is entirely possible that an audience member will take issue with our queerness and choose to make a scene. My partner and I had to leave a show once after she was harassed and overtly threatened when she used the women’s bathroom – I barely made it through my act and we got out of there. We were terrified and devastated and alone. And this isn’t uncommon – I have to consider our safety when booking gigs anywhere. Venture twenty miles out of Dallas and Texas becomes a whole ‘nother country. This isn’t the fault of producers, of my burlesque sisters – they don’t want us to be hurt, we know that. It’s the fault of a fucked-up social system that for some reason can’t handle the fact that my girlfriend wears ties.
Queerlesque is an attempt to create safe space. It’s a place to celebrate queer history and queer culture – and we do have our own culture! Drag Queens and Kings go way back in our history, and we have our own icons and ancestors and important events – and we want a chance to focus on that. Instead of being one queer in a cast of non-queers (which is fun and awesome and I love you all), I get to be in an ENTIRE SHOW of queers! OMG heaven!! Instead of worrying that I will make someone in the dressing room uncomfortable if I admire their panties, I know that my compliments won’t be misunderstood. And since all of us – our audience and our cast and crew – walk in the same world, we can understand each other, support each other, and celebrate each other. We can be a little bit more vulnerable, a little bit more real. For a few hours, we can be unabashedly queer, and that’s magic. Just plain magic.
As the producer of several queer-focused shows in Dallas, I see a lot of queers in very vulnerable moments. It takes a lot of guts to stand up and perform something real after living for decades in a world that says that who you are is wrong. That’s what the Academy is for – it’s a place to start unlearning all that shame, all that critique and censorship and rejection. It’s a place to heal self-doubt, to help others heal theirs, and to dance naked together in a shower of rainbow glitter spraying from the horn of the gayest unicorn ever.
The courses we’re offering at the Academy of Queerlesque are specifically geared toward queers and queer culture, but people who identify as non-queer are absolutely welcome. We love and need allies, and your presence tells us you stand with us. We only ask that you recognize that you’re coming into our safe space, and make sure that you’re respecting that. Don’t judge us, don’t tell us we shouldn’t be worried or that we’re overreacting when we express fear or concern. Don’t forget the struggles we face every day, and do everything you can to contribute to the positive, warm energy of queer space. If we designate a class as limited to a specific identity (i.e. Trans* only, or woman-identified only) please respect that and don’t be offended – it is our mission to create safe space, and sometimes that means being in private groups.
So that’s my vision. I welcome questions and conversation about it, and am always looking for more talented students, instructors, advocates, allies, and supporters. Oh, and if anyone knows where I can find a gay, glitter-spewing unicorn, please let me know.